City Council Meeting

It was my hope that this would run in a local print publication. Unfortunately, I didn’t hear back in time for that to take place. So, you all get if free of charge! Any question, message me or post.

 

City Council Meeting Tuesday 7-29-2020

 

It seems strange to sit behind a monitor and listen to a live stream council meeting! It’s much more comfortable than sitting in a hard seat in council chambers and taking notes, often straining to hear precise words. I get to have coffee and munch! The best part is, I get to review (or rather rewind) the videos presented on You Tube. You don’t have to take the writer’s word for anything. You can print up the agenda and listen to the meeting yourself! Residents, “know the truth and the truth will set you free”” (John 8:32).

 

At the onset of the public meeting, there was an announcement of Councilwoman Bonnie Wright’s resignation from the City Council, effective July 29, 2020. Local news sources cite “health issues” as being a dominant reason for her sudden departure. Considering Ms. Wright and her husband sold their Seven Hills home in May, closing escrow in early July, she was a little tardy in tendering her resignation. In unrelated news sources, Ms. Wright makes sure her delay is “covered” with additional disingenuous explanations.

 

Mayor Russ Brown asked for an inclusion of an agenda item, to discuss Council Member Wright’s resignation and how the council wanted to handle that. According to city attorney Tom Jex “state law requires that council appoint a registered voter from Council Member Wright’s district within 60 days, to fill the vacant seat to the conclusion of the election or to call a special election to fill the vacancy. The next election is a general election, coming up in November”. The remaining council members were in agreement that there isn’t enough time for a special election and decided to add the discussion to the next and if necessary, future agendas. The option to a special election is for council to appoint someone to the vacant seat. In addition, Jex stated that “state law does not set forth a process for appointing to the vacant seat. That process will be up to the remaining four council members to discuss and implement.” Council agreed to allow our very expense City Attorney to do some research on appointing someone to fill the vacancy.

 

A closed session preceded the regular open meeting. There were few items on the closed agenda with no action on any of them.

 

One of the work study items to be reviewed was the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2019. Formal action will be taken during the July 28, 2020 Regular Session. The cumbersome report is available online at the City of Hemet website. There are dozens of financial statements for the various operations taking place in the city. As a side note, the current treasurer, Judith Oltman will not be running for her job as treasurer. As of this writing, Hemet resident Howard Feigenbaum has submitted his intention to run for that position. Howard is a well-known local and published author, having served on various nonprofit boards in the community as well as being involved in various writing programs locally.

 

The CAFR report has been the subject of intense scrutiny, primarily due to the way in which Measure U funds have been distributed. Pat Gregory, of Hemet has been outspoken about the way in which she feels the council has violated the trust of the voters by virtue of the way in which they have chosen to distribute Measure U funds.

 

Hemet resident Dana Hill of Hemet showed interest in an open infrastructure committee position. Later in the meeting, the council accepted his application. Dana comes to the committee with extensive credentials in infrastructure, primarily in the Orange County area. He’ll be an asset to the committee and a voice of reason.

 

There were four comments electronically submitted to be read aloud to counsel. The reporter of this article, Ann Smith submitted four questions. “Will Councilwoman Wright be resigning from City Council as she has sold her home in Seven Hills? Is she living in Hemet?” That question was answered with Council Member Wright’s written resignation. “I have read the CAFR report & I'm curious about how the city plans to fund the looming pension debacle? It looks to me like the city is paying a lot more in their portion of benefits than they have years past. Is that because salaries are increasing OR is because they are hiring more employees OR a combination of both? Fire Chief Brown made a mistake in the last council meeting when he referred to a video Councilwoman Meyers showed all council members. He was talking about a completely different fire than the one Councilwoman Meyers showed the video of. He should clarify that so the public knows the truth. The fire Ms. Meyers referenced took place on July 4, 2020 and there was definitely structure damage (Chief Brown was emphatic that there was no structure damage when he justified the response of firs truck to the July 4th fire). I understand we have a mutual aid agreement with Cal-Fire but after trying to sort through the various balance sheets in the CAFR report, I couldn't see how much money Hemet Police Department and what Hemet Fire Department got. Things were lumped together. I'd really like clarification.

 

Additional public comments not listed on the agenda were made by Pat Gregory, who has been very vocal about her disappointment and frustration regarding the way council handled money acquired through Measure U. Pat has been a vocal opponent of the way funds have slipped around. She issued a lengthy synopsis of what she has found in her review of Measure U. To quote Pat “The city manager is attempting to make himself look good by transferring millions of Measure U funds to balance a budget.” She goes on to add “without Measure U, there would have been, once again, a deficit. Mr. Lopez, you really haven’t made any changes to fix Hemet’s financial problems. Misrepresenting information doesn’t make the problem go away.”

 

Gregory’s way of clarifying the issue at hand, Hemet’s deficit and the manner in which Measure U money has been administered goes a long way in informing residents of the financial mess Hemet continues to find itself in. As a side bar readers, I personally attended numerous council meetings several years ago and there was extensive discussion at that time about the budget. Nothing has changed.

 

As Pat continues to interpret the current results of Measure U, she states “Doesn’t it matter that Mayor Brown and council members Krupa and Wright all violated their promised that Measure U will be used only for the enhancement of public safety? Councilwoman Krupa even suggested that a Measure U resolution should be amended, after the fact.

 

Mayor Brown said that one police officer per 1000 were old statistics and not relevant”. According to Ms. Gregory, “we’re not even close to that number.”

 

Continuing, “so you all are rationalizing the violation of your own signed agreement the city attorney said was binding. With this lack of truth and transparency, the city is still headed towards bankruptcy with the increased structural deficit. The fact that our police are underfunded because of the manipulations of the city manager can only add to the headache. In the spirit of full disclosure, I have submitted my concerns directly to the State Auditor because I don’t think any of you are really listening.” She ended the severe lashing by adding “for your information, I haven’t received a timely response to my record request under the freedom of information act regarding invoices of cash and investments”.

 

Even though the Measure U funds were voted in as a general tax, there was a specific promise made that funds would be used exclusively for the police and fire departments, not to balance the budget. This promise was not only made at council meetings, but at public rallies (which I attended).

 

The City of Hemet website has a form that residents can complete, requesting reports and other information. As is is the custom, the city is slow in responding, particularly when it’s not in their best interests.

 

Hemet resident Tom Austin commented on ongoing speeding issues citing safety concerns. His comments are identical to those made by Theresa Acuna in an early phone presentation, the areas of Thornton, Fisher and Mustang Way. He recommended possibly putting in speed bumps.

 

Angela Daniels expressed concern about a motorcycle gang now present in Hemet, wanting to know if she should be worried. Lastly, Theresa Acuna’s phone comments regarding speeding mentioned by Tom Austin, were read once more. According to Theresa Acuna tells council there are cameras installed to catch the pervasive speeders but Hemet Police Department advised her the cameras are no in operation. Do we smell wasted money here? Why put a camera up if you don’t intend to use it?

 

Other less prominent but important committee business on the agenda, was the selection of a voting delegate for the 2020 League of California Cities Annual Conference & Expo in October 2020. The only COVD update was the approval of outdoor dining by local restaurants.

 

To date, Simpson Center is not open as a cooling center. The city is working on that. You may want to contact the city for more information. The Community Outreach Committee, Project Homekeep received a grant, reaching out to the homeless. The committee is working on developing available places to place the homesless. Valley Restart is on the list. The Salvation Army and possibly Catholic Charities will be attempting to add to the discussion. I’m awaiting further information in my request to both the city and Mayor Russ Brown (who is a member of that committee).

 

Mayor Pro Tem Krupa shared that the library is distributing summer fun bags, by appointment, in lieu of onsite reading programs.

 

Some good news. The Riverside Transit Agency (RTA) met last week. Starting August 1, all students in the RTA area, up to 18 years of age, with ID, can ride free for one year.

 

And lastly – as mentioned earlier, Dana Hill of Hemet was appointed to the Infrastructure Committee. This is a great choice.